Last year some of you may remember when I had to fight with the state of Oregon to receive my tax refund. It was almost October before I got it, and it was only after stepping into the Kafkaesque-world of the state revenue office that it happened. This year, it is no different. The same level denials, the same letters, the same demands for excruciating proof of childcare payments. Last year, I wasn't able to come up with all copies of duplicate checks, so I sent in what I had, resulting in a loss of about $300 to my original refund amount. This year, I'm fighting the system again, only I've decided to make it all public, to email all of my state legislators and senators, and to be very vocal about this.
And I will say that there is nothing quite like writing an angry letter to a government agency on the Fourth of July, right before running out to watch the fireworks down the block:
Oregon Department of Revenue
955 Center Street NE
Salem, OR 97301-2555
To Whom It May Concern:
I received your notice regarding my adjusted tax return on June 18, 2009. I am appealing this decision within the 30-day time frame as provided. I am including in this letter proof of payment of childcare, which includes photocopies of duplicate checks and copies of my bank statements. In the instances where I could not find copies of my duplicate checks, I have included itemized statements from the childcare provider and corresponding bank statements. In all cases, I have circled the checks on my bank statements in order to make referencing them easier.
While this should be sufficient to appeal the adjusted return successfully, there are some pressing issues I have with your organization. This is not the first year my return has been adjusted because of the Working Family Credit. Last year, I had to make many calls, send letters, and request a form from the Oregon Tax Court to appeal the decision before my refund was finally issued. My refund was flagged the year before as well, though the method of proof wasn’t quite as rigorous.
As a point of reference, I should note that I have always submitted ample information to receive my federal refund without issue. This is despite the fact that my federal refund is often larger than the one I receive from the state, and includes a similar credit, the Earned Income Credit. In addition, I’ve often used childcare administered through the University of Oregon or, in other words, my childcare has, for the most part, been signed and verified by a state employee. If your office has come to the point where a signed invoice from another state employee, from a major state organization, is not enough to establish the veracity of my claimed credits, then there is a serious problem within your office. No organization would be able to run effectively if such a burden of proof were required at every turn.
In addition, I’ve always used a licensed accountant, and every year, my accountant has said the same thing about my state refund: “they will flag it. It doesn’t matter how much proof you send in.” Last year my accountant said, “Everyone gets these flagged. And a lot of people just can’t get everything together to get their money.” This year, I asked every accountant in the office, and they all agreed that this was the case. One man went so far as to suggest, “they do it so they don’t have to pay all of them.”
This is particularly troubling because the Working Family Credit is designed for low to lower-middle income working families. In other words, these are people who struggle to make the rent, the electric bill, and cover quality childcare, despite the fact that they are working. These are families who are less likely to have the time or the resources to adequately answer a denial of their tax refund. I had to balance finding every bank statement, and every duplicate check, and then cross-referencing them, with being a single mother of three children, and all that entails—soccer games, homework, doctors’ appointments—while juggling a professional job where I sometimes have to work 60-hour weeks. I received my initial notice saying I needed to submit this information while in the middle of teaching 4 courses, an overload, at the University of Oregon. Incidentally, I am also a state of Oregon employee.
What’s appalling is that such systems, whether by intention or mere circumstance, make it more difficult for these families, my family included, to get the financial help we have a right to. The Working Family Credit is supposed to help Oregon families; it isn’t supposed to add a layer of worry and stress and time and effort to an already stretched-thin life. I generally dislike claims such as “they do it so they don’t have to pay,” but when I balance the incredible amount of evidence—the fact the federal government requires no such standard, that even a state agency’s signed invoice is not sufficient proof, and that everyone seems to know that these returns are flagged a priori—it tells me that there are serious reasons to believe that the Oregon Department of Revenue does not want to pay these refunds according to the tax law.
This all sounds incredibly dry until you realize that there are real people behind these refunds. Last year my refund was $5716. This year, it’s $2505. I make $27,000 a year. I have no room to let go of even a dollar.
As such, I am both appealing the decision to adjust my 2008 state tax return. I am also sending copies of this letter to my state legislators and senators, and will also publish it online. Especially now, especially in this fragile economy, this cannot continue. Oregon families can no longer allow it.